And now what we’re going to move on to is this inclination to choose, this inclination to choose. Last week I read a story to you, a little illustration. I’m going to read it to you again, but I’m going to use and apply a different application. This comes from Charles Phillips. He says, “We sometimes use the words knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as though they were synonyms. A simple illustration will help us discern the difference. A little girl watches her mother doing the ironing. The child is intrigued by the process as the iron heats up the wrinkles and creases in each garment. The phone rings and as the mother goes to answer it, she says to her, little girl, don’t touch that iron. It’s hot. The child now has knowledge. The iron is hot, but as soon as her mother disappears, the little girl decides to try her own hand at ironing. Unfortunately, she touches the iron in the wrong place and is burned. She now has understanding that the iron is really hot. The next day the mother continues with the ironing, and again, she is summoned by the phone and again, she issues a warning, don’t touch the iron. It’s hot. Again, the temptation to do some ironing comes over the little girl. She puts out her hand to grab the iron, but then she remembers her burned finger, and she leaves the iron alone. She now has wisdom. The iron is hot.”
Now, I know this is a very simplistic little story or a little illustration, but from it, we see how wisdom impacts life. It impacts the decisions and the choices we make in life. And it’s important to recognize this. Wisdom changes people. It impacts not only what they see, but what they choose. And guys, this is of critical importance because our lives end up being the sum of the choices we make as we walk down the path of life.
Your life today is the sum of the choices that you’ve made over a lifetime. Alistair McGrath, who many of you know is one of my favorite authors to read. He’s a scientist, a theologian. He teaches at Oxford. He’s written over 40 books. Listen to what he says. He says, “Wisdom is being transformed on the basis of what is true and really matters. In the language of the classical tradition, wisdom is affective. That is, it changes the one who seeks it by bringing that person into its orbit and under its transforming influence.” He says, “Wisdom changes people.”
Now, I’ll go back to our illustration and assume that from this incident, this little girl realizes, you know, my mother was right. I’m going to really listen to her and what she has to tell me because I see that it will lead to my well-being. And I share that because once a person begins to walk in wisdom and begins to bring his or her life in harmony with the principles and pattern that God has woven into reality, that’s when we really begin to grow in wisdom. You see, it impacts the path of life we go down.
Now I want to read you a story, a quick illustration of this. I shared this at one of the breakfasts at the BCC a couple years ago, and it’s a quote from a guy by the name of Oscar Wilde. He was a literary genius, and yet he lived the life of a fool, and he only recognized it as he lay dying in his forties. Listen to his reflection upon his own life and you’ll see how this relates to what we’re talking about. He said, “I started with almost everything in life that a young man would want. I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I became the spendthrift of my own genius and to waste an eternal youth gave me curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search of a new sensation. What paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion, desire at the end was a malady, a madness or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes a character. I ceased to be Lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and I didn’t know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me, and I ended in horrible disgrace.”
You know, Wilde’s words support what we’ve talked about. Life is made up of a series of choices. And these choices impact not only the quality of our lives, but our relationships and ultimately our character. And what I find, he’s admitting this, “I chose to go down a certain path in life and it ruined me. It ruined me.”
And so I guess this morning where I want to go with this is for us to realize wisdom in one sense is a pathway that we walk down. It’s a pathway that we walk down. If you have your Bibles, in the book of Ephesians, chapter five, the apostle Paul in verse 15 (Ephesians 5:15), Ephesians chapter five, verse 15 says, therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise making the most of your time because the days are evil. He’s talking about being careful how you walk through life, the path that you walk down be wise. And then Proverbs 4:18, it talks about, and you see this consistently in the Book of Proverbs. It makes reference to a path or a pathway. And in Proverbs 4:18, it’s called the path of life, or the path of light, L I G H T. You also see that in Proverbs 2:13, it says, to depart from this path is to walk in the way of darkness. And you see that in the life of Oscar Wilde.
Now, what I’d like to do now is maybe share a couple of thoughts from Tim Keller as it relates to this path that we’re walking down, and it’s quite interesting.
He says, “Walking down a path is basically accomplished by steady plodding. It is by steady plodding that you get somewhere. Your ultimate destiny over the course of your life is determined by how you do the little things every day. The way of wisdom is a path. You become wise by assuming a certain set of daily practices, and as you adopt these practices, these disciplines, and do them over and over again, eventually you become wise. Wisdom is not a door as most of us would hope it is where we can turn a key and find some secret knowledge. Wisdom is a long patient quest, and it does not come quickly.”
I was reading recently about a guy, he was an English minister by the name of William Carey, he lived in the 18th and 19th century. And it’s interesting that although he had only an elementary education, by the time Kerry was in his teens, he could read the Bible in six languages. Because of his talent for languages, when he was in his early thirties, he was chosen to be a missionary to India. Six years later in 1799, he founded the Serampore Mission. A few years after that, he became professor of Oriental languages at Fort William College in Calcutta. He also used his talent with languages in becoming a publisher. His press at Serampore printed Bibles in 40 languages and dialects for more than 300 million people. To what did Kerry attribute his success? Listen to this.
“How was he able to accomplish what he did? He said it was because he was a plodder. Describing himself, Carey said, anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. This is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
You know, one of the problems I see as I meet with men, as so often I encounter very gifted and talented people, and yet often they’re not wise because they don’t like to plod, one step in front of the other. And yet, in one sense, this is a key to successful living. A very prominent business consultant and public speaker, you may have heard him, his name is Nido Qubein, and he says, “One of the greatest reasons people cannot mobilize themselves is that they’re always dreaming of some grand accomplishment that they hope will one day come to pass in their lives.” And then he says this, and this is a great quote. He says, “Most worthwhile achievements are the result of many little things done in a single direction. Many little things done in a single direction.”
I don’t know if any of you have read C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man, but in it, he talks about why modern people never become wise, and this is a great insight, it’s almost worth you just coming to hear this one insight. But he said that ancient wisdom recognized man’s chief problem in living his life. And this was the chief problem. How do I conform my soul to reality? And the answer was wisdom. Wisdom was the answer to the cardinal problem of life. In other words, let me tell you what he was saying. He’s saying, here is life and I need to see and understand how life works and then live in accordance with it. And he says, this is wisdom. This is the way to properly live your life. He says, however, modern man seeks to do just the opposite. We seek to subdue reality to the wishes of my soul. In other words, we look for ways to make life work in accordance with what I want, which is utter foolishness. If any of you read Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he says, the principles of life are set in concrete. It’s impossible to break them. He says, we only can break ourselves when we try to defy them.
And that’s what Lewis is saying. Human beings seek to change reality to fit the desires of the soul. And he says, this is the way we do it, with technique, with a formula. Let me tell you what he means by this. He’s saying, for us today, we have a need or a problem in our life, we can go to Barnes and Noble and find a book that’ll tell us how to deal with our problem. You know, we’re talking about making good wise decisions. The modern person thinks, I can go to Barnes and Noble and find a book that says five easy steps for making good decisions. And that’s what we expect. Or, you know, how to overcome stress, or how to have a great sex life, or, you know, read a book and you can become the world’s greatest salesperson. In other words, Lewis is saying, you know, you have a problem, there is a formula out there that we believe that will allow us to easily overcome it. And this is what you see. People are looking for a door to open, quick and easy. But we need to realize true wisdom is walking consistently down a certain path.
Dallas Willard in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines points this out. And he’s making a point about our spiritual lives, but he uses it by talking about athletics. He says, “Think of certain young people who idolize an outstanding baseball player. They want nothing so much as to pitch or run or hit as well as their idol. So, what do they do? When they’re playing in a baseball game? They all try to behave exactly as their favorite baseball star does. The star is well known for sliding headfirst into bases, so, the teenagers do too. The star holds his bat above his head. So, the teenagers do too. These young people try anything and everything their idol does, hoping to be like him. They buy the type of shoes the star wears, the same glove he uses, the same exact bat. But will they succeed in performing like the star though? We all know the answer quite well. We know that they won’t succeed if all they do is try to be like him in the game, no matter how gifted they may be in their own way. And we all understand why. The star performer himself didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation. He went down a certain path, a path that prepared his mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation to provide a foundation in the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game. Those exquisite responses that we see, the amazing timing and strength such an athlete displays aren’t produced and maintained by the short hours of the game itself. They are available to the athlete for those short and all important hours because of a daily regimen that nobody sees. For example, the proper diet and rest and the exercise for specific muscles are not a part of the game itself. But without them, the athletes certainly would not perform outstandingly. Some of these daily habits may even seem silly to us, but the successful athlete knows that his disciplines must be undertaken and undertaken rightly, or all his natural talents and best efforts will go down in defeat to others who have disciplined themselves in preparation for game time.”
You see, guys, there is an art to living and it’s not a quick and easy formula. And yet unfortunately, so many people today buy into that. I mean, it’s as silly as you know, a young athlete thinks if he wears the same shoes that LeBron James wears, he’ll play like LeBron James. And as silly as that sounds, modern people buy into this approach to life. Now, if there are these daily practices that will put us on the path to wisdom, so that over time we are wise people who make wise choices and wise decisions, the question that we need to address is what are those daily practices? What are they?
Now, this morning I’m going to spend the balance of our time, probably take about 15 minutes, on the most important, and next week we’ll probably look at maybe five others as we close up this series. But it shouldn’t surprise you that the first daily practice should be seeking to know God. And there’s a reason for that. In the Book of Colossians, it says, in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And then in the book of Romans, in the 11th chapter, in the 33rd verse (Romans 11:33), it says, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways. And in Daniel 2, it says, it is God who gives men wisdom. It is He who reveals the profound truths of life.
So, God is the source of wisdom. And guys, we need to know God and know who He is and his commitment to our lives. He needs to be more than just a concept in our minds. He needs to be a living reality in our lives imparting His wisdom to us. Now, there’s a very important verse in Proverbs relating to wisdom. It’s the starting place of wisdom. And if you would, turn to Proverbs chapter nine, and we’re going to look at verse 10 (Proverbs 9:10), the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
I’m going to look at the second part of, I’m going to start by looking at the second part of that proverb. Knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. This is where it all begins, by the way. You see, our relationship with God is the foundation of our thinking. You see, it completely determines the way we view the world. And Proverbs 9:10 is telling us that your faith view of reality, your faith view of God is the foundation in which all your reasoning proceeds. If you don’t believe in God, it’s a belief and it’s taken by faith. It’s your faith view of reality and all your reasoning proceeds from this. Because what you do is you screen out all that does not fit with this view of life. Your understanding of God is the beginning of your knowledge.
Let me give, we looked at two examples last week. C.S. Lewis, if you recall. Lewis, until the age of 31, was an atheist. His view of people was that they’re nothing but a mass of chemicals, that people don’t have any great worth, intrinsic worth. They’re just like any other animal. It says, then he became a Christian and it completely transformed his view of humanity and that people were the holiest creatures here on this earth. And it impacted not only the way he viewed life, but his priorities. So, you see, your understanding of God is the beginning of your knowledge.
We also discussed the fact that if there is no God, then this life is all there is. And if this life is all there is, we ought to just blow it out. Eat, drink, and be merry. Accumulate as much as you can, because when you die, you’re food for the worms. If that’s your view of life, it’ll impact the way you live. But if, in fact, you take the biblical view that we are sojourners, we’re on a journey, this life is a short journey to the celestial city, and that we have an eternal life waiting for us that can be impacted, its well-being can be impacted by how we live our lives here, that will impact our lives. So you can see how our understanding of God is the beginning of our knowledge. I want to read to you a great op-ed piece from The LA Times by a Jewish journalist by the name of David Klinghoffer. Listen to what he says. And he’s looking at American culture today. And this is what he says.
“What we are observing in our society seems to be the struggle of religion versus no religion. In actuality, it’s a conflict of various religions, including secularism. Of course, secularism is atheistic. If you object to secularism as a religion because it has no deity, let’s remember that other faiths like Zen Buddhism, also lacks a belief in God.” And then he asks this great question, he says, “what is a religion then? What is a religion? Simply this, a system of beliefs explaining where life comes from, what life means, and what we as living beings are supposed to be doing with our few allotted years. Answers to these questions are not provable; they are taken by faith.” Do you realize he’s saying that whether you believe in God or whether you don’t, you have a faith view of God.
And I was reminded of a book I read 25 years ago. It’s called A Severe Mercy by a guy by the name of Sheldon Van Auken. It’s a love story. It’s a terrific book. In fact, as I’ve read this, I read a quote from Van Auken in another book that I just finished reading but it’s a love story, but it’s also his coming to faith. And through the course of the book, he has correspondence with C.S. Lewis, and he publishes the letters. He’d write a letter to Lewis, and Lewis would respond. And he was grappling with whether to become a Christian. And listen to what he says. He says, “There is a gap between the probable and the proof. How was I to cross it trying to make this decision? If I were to stake my whole life on the risen Christ, I wanted proof, I wanted certainty. I wanted to see him eat a bit of fish. I wanted letters of fire across the sky. I got none of these. And I continued to hang about on the edge of the gap. It was a question of whether I was to accept him or reject him. My God, there was a gap behind me as well. Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble. But what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God, but by God, there was no certainty that he was not. This was not to be born. I could not reject Jesus.” That was the conclusion he came to.
“There was only one thing to do. Once I’d seen the gap behind me, I turned away from it and I flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.”
You see what he’s saying is that, whichever decision we make about our lives, it’s a faith issue. It’s a faith issue in our view of God or our view, that there is no God impacts my view of where life comes from, what life means, and what I’m supposed to be doing. So, you see, knowledge of the Holy One impacts my understanding. It impacts my choices, it impacts my life. Now, if you think about it, furthermore, if there is no God, there is no real accountability for my behavior. You know, a quote that I like to use a lot because it’s, it’s somewhat humorous, but he really meant it was B.F. Skinner, the famous Harvard psychologist, the father of behaviorism. He says, “The object of life is to gratify yourself without getting arrested.”
Now, if you look at what he said, look at what he said, he was saying, really, he didn’t believe in God and he didn’t believe God in God’s moral law. And what he was saying is, you should push the envelope as far as you can, be as perverse, be as shameless, be as immoral as you can, but there’s one thing you ought to fear and that’s jail. That’s the only thing you ought to fear. But anything else goes. And as I was thinking about this and preparing this and I thought about his words, it reminded me of Psalm 36, the first verse, listen to this as it relates to B.F. Skinner and that view of life. Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart. There is no fear of God before his eyes.
You see no fear of God in that statement. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. You see that over and over in the scriptures. And yet a number of people have a problem with this idea of fear of God because we think fear is something that’s very negative. But you know, a fear can be very positive.
I know of a middle-aged woman who’s never done anything athletic in her life, and yet her family has a history of heart disease and one of her family members just had a heart attack. And so all of a sudden this woman’s taken up running. And the reason she’s taking it up, she says, is she’s afraid that she, in a matter of years, will also have a heart attack. And so, fear is driving her to be athletic and to go run, to sweat, something that she detests. And yet, fear can be a very positive thing in our lives.
Let me share with you real quickly my working definition of the fear of God as it relates to wisdom. Let me just, I’m going to read it to you.
Fear in God is a condition of heart that is based on our understanding of God, His character, His capability, and His commitment to His word. It is the beginning point for walking in wisdom as a way of life. It means that we realize God is going to fulfill His word in our lives based on how we respond to it.
You know, in Psalm 119:65, it says, God will deal with us according to His word. In other words, God does what he says he’s going to do. He doesn’t vacillate. And the one verse that I would home in on as we consider the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom is Galatians 6:7, it’s a great verse. If you don’t know it, listen to it. It says, do not be deceived. God will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows this he shall also reap. In one sense, guys, we should fear the laws of reaping and sowing. God is saying, this is how life works. Every decision you make is like planting a seed, He’s saying, and it will bear a harvest, either a bitter harvest or a fruitful harvest.
Think of Oscar Wilde. He made a series of choices. And look what happened. He reaped what he sowed. And the problem is modern people do not fear defying God’s word. This is the beginning of wisdom.
You know, hopefully as we leave this morning, we realize that the beginning of all of my wisdom and all of my view of life proceeds from my view of God. And this is why each day we need to have those daily practices of seeking to know God at a deeper level. And I speak primarily of communion with God through His word and through our prayer life. This must be the central priority in my life if I’m going to really connect with Him. And my great fear for all of us guys is that this modern approach to Christianity is how can I use Christ for my benefit? Instead of how is the life I am living impacting my relationship with Him? And how must I change my daily practices so that I’m going down a path that leads to a deeper relationship with Him? This is the heart of wisdom.
I close with this thought, my life, your life, will be out of touch with reality unless we are in touch with the One who designed reality. Remember, wisdom is knowing how things work and what to do about it. It’s becoming competent in regard to the realities of life. Let’s close in prayer.
Father, we thank You for the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge and understanding. Then as we close this morning, we acknowledge just how little we really do know and how little we do understand. I pray that this series of studies would impact our lives. Help us to see Father, that wisdom is a pathway we walk down. It’s not a formula, it’s not an easy door that we can open and all of a sudden are wise, but it’s daily walking down a path, one foot in front of the other, seeking to know You, seeking to know Who You are and what You have planned for our lives. We thank You that You love us, that You’re committed to us, that You’re committed to our well-being, and that You have given us a path to walk down, a path that leads to good, a path that leads to the very best life that’s out there. We yearn for that, and we desire that for our lives, for our family’s lives, for our children. We’re grateful for this time together in Christ’s name. Amen.